RPA (iQoncept/Shutterstock.com)

VDOT automates the dull out of doing business

The Virginia Department of Transportation is leaning into automation as it works to increase efficiency.

VDOT's IT Division stood up the Business Enablement Services Team to bring together the agency’s IT and business units to find opportunities for automation and then develop robotic process automation (RPA) tools and other low- and no-code applications to boost efficiency.

“If there is a repeatable task being performed on a computer somewhere, then we see that as a candidate for intelligent automation,” Robert Osmond, chief of technology and business strategy at VDOT, said at the Blue Prism World virtual conference last month. “We see it as filling a huge gap in our solution portfolio.”

Traditionally, he said, VDOT has had two options for incorporating IT into its operations: through manual work or expensive custom or commercial applications. Intelligent automation is another way to provide targeted solutions that can quickly augment business processes. When these tools are co-created with the business units, they tend to be more popular with end users, Osmond said. As a result, technology is increasingly becoming part of every job at the department.

“The trucks that we use, they’re becoming mobile IT platforms with computers and wireless networks,” Osmond said. “Our tunnels, our bridges, our corridors and our buildings are becoming sprinkled with sensors and becoming increasingly intelligent. Our field forces, they’re all using tablets and robots to make work safer and more efficient.”

VDOT encourages workers who need to move data from one system to another to consider RPA after the department used it to successfully move data between financial systems and transfer work order data from a service management application to an application development system.

“For example, we use a tool called Ivanti to manage our service management -- that’s our customer requests for IT goods and services. We use Microsoft Team Foundation Server to manage our code development,” Osmond said. “We created an automation to take the parts of the service requests and transition that into the Team Foundation Server. That allowed us to maintain the continuity of the data and also saved time.”

He shared two other use cases. One used automation, rather than analysts, to generate data visualizations. VDOT took a list of all small businesses by category from the Small Business Administration and created an automation to ingest it and display the data in map form. The tool allowed residents or agency staff to search for different categories of small businesses in a specific area and see the results on a map. “It helped us connect the people that needed goods and services … to those small businesses in the area that could provide them,” Osmond said.

The third use case grew out of a periodic need for applications to ingest large amounts of data. VDOT created automations to pull data from the source system and load it into its own systems. For a human resources analyst who previously had to spend time gathering and moving salary data, it meant being able to grab the data in minutes, not hours, Osmond said.

“At VDOT, we see automation as a solution to work that is dirty, dangerous or dull. We have robotic mowers that can cut grass on dangerous slopes,” he said. “We have drones to gather data around difficult terrain. We’re even deploying an automated dog called Spot that can crawl through drainage pipes … to assess damage.”

“In the office, where repetitive tasks can be very dull, the duller the task, the better the candidate for automation,” he said. “Our advice for people that are looking for opportunities to automate is to look for those process pain points.”

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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